School’s out

continental gameDay XLVII – April 4

Already it’s our last day here!
We made a little game out of all the subjects we covered. We’ve divided the kids in teams. We then ask each team to take a certain colour balloon and place it in a certain continent on the map we drew on the floor. And then to step into the continent and act out an emotion or disease, or ask them for directions to another continent. And they’re really enjoying it! And even better; they remember everything we’ve thought them!

After one of the classes this boy comes running after me to give me an origami swam on a rope and stick; just the cutest! That will make for a great bookmarker.
The principal leaves us with a present as well; a traditional Khmer scarf. So sweet!
One of the teachers –of that super good grade 6 class- went through lengths to thank us, taking photos and exchanging e-mail.
school's out
Even though I’d gotten pretty tired these last few days and was looking forward to my week of nothing along the coast, parting is heavy! So much is left to be taught, so much fun is left to be had
During our last lunch together we’re talking about supporting and adopting the kids in the orphanage and what we could do to help them once we’re gone.
This adoption is a figure of speech, meaning you’d decide to send one specific kid a monthly or annual amount to pay for his or her education or health or whatever you decide on. There’s a whole official form. Mr Ya gives us his details so we can also just send him something for all the kids to share or to put to a project.

greenway team You know what, the term orphan is also a figure of speech. Most of them do still have parents. It’s just that the parents got divorced, which isn’t uncommon in Cambodia. Children from a previous marriage make it harder to find a new spouse, they don’t fit in in the new situation and they’re expensive. So they’re thrown out. And that’s how they end up in the orphanage. Some of them still see their family sometimes, but it’s a very sad story.
All in all; this experience has been amazing and I am so grateful for how people here have opened up to us and showed us around in their simple every-day-lives. I truly hope to come back one day and be able to make a big difference.
I now totally see why Angelina Jolie felt the need to take one home…

Peculiarities of teaching in remote Cambodia

Day XLVI – April 3

It’s the time of harvest and planting anew before rainy season is here. Now the burning isn’t as bad here as it is in Laos where they burn entire acres of rainforest to create new land.
It’s just small piles of rubbish, and I think some of that has the purpose of drying and grilling vegetables. Still, a lot of the stray plastic ends up in the fires and a nasty stench fills the air.

Another extremely hot day!
Leak, who normally wears a black sweater and the long jeans and socks everybody wears to keep their skin out of the sun, has even reduced to a t-shirt and a skirt today.
I’m sweating so much the skin in my neck and on my back is covered in a rash.
And thus I discover the power of sugar! Maybe I’m weird, but I never noticed it like this before. Today is no cooler than yesterday, but I was dead-tired than, couldn’t even move. And now I seem just fine, after a lunch of Khmer pancakes with bananas and pineapple and sugar: noms!

When we come back to school the classroom is closed, hung with a padlock, the teacher’s gone home and took the only key there is. So, no class, we skip it all together and go to the next. Pretty odd, no?
Another one of those occasions you shouldn’t try to understand… I propose an outside class or in the library maybe? But we don’t have the tools there and it’s just not going to happen.
Another peculiar fact: when we’re repeating yesterdays lesson I tell the kids “Just look it up in your notebook, you wrote it down yesterday…”
Leak explains to me “They can’t read that.” She always gives them the Khmer translation so they know what it says. And those are very different letters, characters actually, from ours. They’re all very good at writing the western alphabet; they just don’t know what it means…

But despite these little things I feel completely at home here.
And I can hardly imagine my trip will be over and I’ll leave SEA in a month. I’m sure I don’t want to!
I’m reading back a bit to those first days with Sit and the crew in Thailand, and they still feel so close, yet it’s such a long time ago and so much happened since! It’s strange how time works on the mind in these circumstances.

And still you’ll have this notion that there is stuff you HAVE to do. I NEED to finish this book while I’m here so I can leave it behind. I MUST read up on this or that before I go there. I HAVE to book this flight asap.
The western code programmed to always rush to the next thing. And despite the pace in these regions being more like “It’ll happen when it happens, things will come around eventually. Don’t sweat it, it’s hot enough already.” it’s hard to let go of that little voice in the back of your mind completely.

This evening the sky is so bright! The moon is nearly full and there are no clouds except for a hazy veil caused by the fires. I walk for a little bit and when I’m out of the light, the land around me looks as bright as during a solar eclipse. It’s breathtaking! Again that loss for words.
The sounds of weddings have finally died down and all I hear is a concert of crickets, frogs, geckos and some far-away dogs. And all sense of time and space leave me. I don’t have to – anything. It doesn’t matter where or when I am. ‘I’ don’t even exist.

Khmer heat and cravings and weddings

class and me
Day XLV – April 2

I caught a tiny little gecko that was walking over my toothpaste, exactly the size I would want that tattoo to be. Is it a sign?

After yesterday’s shower things seemed to have cooled down, even this morning. But the sun has reclaimed his throne in the blue and taken over temperatures. I’m too tired to even teach today…

But it ends up being a fun day like all the other ones. We’re teaching about emotions, drawing smileys on the board and acting out the faces. The kids are having a hoot at it, and learn us the Khmer translation in return.

A sandwich with cheese, just Dutch cow-cheese. And mayonnaise. And ham. On a baguette. Not the fluffy ones they have here, but a crunchy French baguette. Like the ones I made in Lyon all the time. With a chipolata sausage and onion and grilled zucchini and selery salad. Or a rice cracker with proper Dutch peanut butter. And nutella. And a stroopwafel. But most of all just chocolate. Can’t find any real chocolate anywhere.
Cravings for your native cuisine; they’re bound to happen when you’re away for a longer period. (And it’s got noting to do with my being late.) But that doesn’t mean I’m not still loving the local dishes!

There’s an explosion of weddings going on. Leak explains to us it’s because everyone here gets married between January and May. There are both religious and traditional reasons for it, but mostly it’s because of rainy season. And rainy season is about to break, so every day there are a few weddings, squeezed in right before it.
By the sound of it they start at 5am, they take over 24 hours each and they’re very loud. It sounds like a festival sounds from the campingsite.

Environmental issues at temple

Day XLIV – Mai 1

Yesterday was Queensday back in Holland; the biggest holiday of the year! Now I’m usually no fan, but the Dutchies and I here had planned to do a little something just for the hack of it, or – we’d talked about it. But than April 30 came and went and we didn’t even notice…

Today school is closed again, due to Labour Day.
So there’s a holiday project: cleaning up the temple. Mr Ya’s private school send all the kids and some of those very young teachers –younger than most of us even- out to help, as are we.
It’s mainly the garden that needs the cleaning. And man is there a lot of plastic lying around! But the last time I saw public bins in the street was 3 weeks ago in Luang Prabang. They don’t get that concept of pollution yet. And if they do, and gather their trash together –a lot of it plastic- they don’t know better than to get rid of it by burning. That’s what is going to happen to the piles we’ve been gathering this morning most likely. And trying to tell them differently doesn’t seem to work. Not for now anyway; but here is a big awareness-project waiting for someone to pick it up!

I’m pleasantly surprised by the way the monks handle us. They aren’t too shy or scared to talk to us, even though we’re all girls. They even take our bags from us directly to put them in a safe place while we work. That very much defies that sexist image that is painted by rules like: when a woman hands something to a monk, she is to place it on a tray so the monk will never touch the same object at the same time, for women aren’t clean life forms.
It was kind of funny how they just stood around watching us ‘helping them’.

After cleaning for about an hour or so there is a little talk on how to help the environment and keep the place clean. We’re asked for some input so Rikke and Yun state the obvious ‘don’t throw your trash on the ground’ etc, but it’s nowhere near enough.

The rest of the day we spend in the orphanage. When we get there the kids are playing some sort of gambling game, with real money, before they make for a swim.
I dare Yun with an “I’ll jump if you jump” so we go in with them and Pat follows in minutes. It’s a blast! The kids keep climbing our shoulders and hiding under the mud where we have to come find them, pretending like crocodiles.

We’re treated on a feast meal with French fries and fish and delish omelets and some treats of dough and honey-rice-packets.

I’m spending my free time in books on Angkor Wat, doing some background research so I’ll have an idea of what I’m looking at this weekend. I’m so looking forward to this one! And there are so many of them! It seems impossible to see everything in one day, yet I’ve been told it’s been done and with success. Ah well, as long as I can find a way off the beaten track and get that Junglebook feeling.

A little essay on school vs. orphanage:
For one the orphanage is a lot longer a bike ride, and the bicycles aren’t super comfy…
And there is no structure at all in the orphanage. They didn’t have any classes yesterday because the others had that day-trip to Wat Preah Vihar, and they didn’t have any class today; we all spend our morning helping clean up the temple and our afternoon painting the shower room.
And when they do get taught it’s pretty much up to them to join the ‘class’, and sometimes all of them run off together to go for a swim in their muddy pond right in the middle of something.
At school they sometimes leave the room, but just to go to the toilet or something and they come back. And everyone is participating, as you might expect at school.
However, there are six times more kids in school and we only see them one hour a day.
So it’s much easier to bond with- and make an impact on the kids at the orphanage.
But it’s much easier to actually teach something to the kids at school.
I don’t know which I prefer in this case. I’m not really here long enough to make a big impact anyway. And it seems like I’m doing well at school. So I guess I made the right choice. And secretly I do prefer the structure at this point. After all I’ve got a busy schedule after this.
Is it anything like what I’d expected? No clue; had no idea of what to expect up to the day we started the ‘culture classes’ and even than it was pretty unclear.
But for now I’m enjoying Khmer country life, learning the language, my luxurious room and all the lovely people at the home stay, spending our free time around the table down in the garden or up on the balcony reading our books, sharing our travel guides and experiences, playing cards or dice, appreciating the awesome lightning shows nature puts up for us almost every night now, and the calm one can find in daily structure. And of course the home cooked meals.

For a country that until so recently has known so much war and terror and has had so many beatings to take, it is really remarkable how happy these people still are. I am an optimist, but nothing compared to them!
Their entire history is market by bloodshed, with many territorial wars until the 19th century, the French colonization from 1863 till 1945, the Japanese occupation during WWII and then the horribly ghoulish genocide brought upon by Khmer Rouge who ruled from 1975 till 1979.
And I already told you they’re still in conflict with Thailand over Preah Vihar.
It’s only since 1993 that this country has really had the chance to start picking up the pieces.
They’re always smiling though and proud to be Khmer. After all: they build Angkor, the greatest of all buildings.

Back when in Cambodia

Day XLIII – April 30

Getting ready for another weeks work.
It’s just Patrizia and me today; the rest of them have gone on a little day trip to Wat Preah Vihar – a very ancient temple, older even than Angkor Wat, near the Thai border, that’s been under dispute for decades. No more than 2 years ago the Thai were dropping bombs on Cambodia claiming the temple is theirs. Too bad the whole trip was 60$ so too expensive; it would’ve been cool to see.
It almost seems like all of Samraong is having a bit of a Monday morning; things seem quieter than normal.

In school today we’re teaching about diseases and aches. We act them out for the kids to guess our symptoms and they find it hysterical! Once they get it, we ask them to show us what ‘sore throat’ etc looks like. It takes a moment, but eventually most of them really participate!
At the start of each class we quickly repeat the lessons we handled before, and overall it stuck very well. Gives us even more a feeling like we’re actually making that little difference you do this volunteering for!

I’ve found myself warming up to the idea of – what I said before I left home, would be a very stupid thing to do – getting ink done, here, in Asia. This trip is definitely something I’d like to eternalize for the rest of my life. And I’ve seen plenty of them done here that have turned out perfectly fine. So why not?

Apparently this is the night of the one-day flies.
As I was applying some after shower moisturizer to try and save my very dry skin and in hopes of turning the red into brown, a huge bunch of those bugs that won’t harm people but are quite big and keep flapping around the light so nervously, gathered in my room. I’m hoping to drive them out by turning off the light, on the fan, closing the door and go to the balcony.
But we have a light up there as well, on the ceiling. Still, sitting in the chairs or even on the ground is impossible, it’s that crowded.
So back to my room I go to find refuge inside my net with my torch. I’ve closed my window now but they still seem to come in through the cracks of the walls, and a first one made it through the net, so lights out and an early night it is.

A day at the orphanage

Day XXXIX –April 26

There won’t be any school today; the teachers are having a big meeting.
So in the morning we come along to the orphanage and help paint the new shower room while Yun is teaching. It’s a voluntary class, so most of the kids are out here, watching what we’re doing and playing football or cuddling the pups or splashing in the pond.

It seems like every day it’s getting hotter here in north Cambodia. And it’s not just me waking up bathing in sweat, even with my fan on, at 5am, the coolest time of day.
So we’re happy to be working under a fan in the afternoon.
We’re working on a little project for tomorrow’s class. We’ll be teaching on countries, and are making a poster showing the flag, landmark, animal, food and greeting of all our countries.

Afterwards I reward myself with a cigarette from the pack I just bought at the roadside store across the street, for just 500r. That’s about 10 cents. And it’s not killing me instantly!?

Another example of miscomunication: this afternoon Mariella was in the internetcafé and she checks for me till what time they’re open: 8pm. So right after dinner Rikke and I get on our bikes and drive over there to find the place closed. The boy told Mariella they might close early if there are no customers, but than just go out back and holla. So we do that. But the lady tells us off. “I always close at 6pm, no later.” More luck in Siem Reap tomorrow.
Instead we find ourselves a cold beer. Cafés don’t really happen in this town, but there’s a convenience store open, with a few chairs out front, where we perch in the fluorencent lighting.
At some point a few boys walk by that strike at the opportunity to practice their English. They’re surprised to see foreign girls, drinking beer none the less. We’re surprised at how worldy-wise they are –despite that little thing- for kids from such a small, remote village.

It’s been a long time since lightning and thunder could scare me – but the loudness with which it comes down over here… gets darn close to it.
Even the dog, that is used to living outside –it’s not a pet the way dogs are held in the western world, but only here for guarding purposes- couldn’t have been happier to see me coming out of the shower just now, while everyone else has already gone to bed, and is begging me to let her sleep in my room; she’s found out already I have a weak spot for her. I try if I can make her lie down besides my bed but she’s just trying to get in, so I have to leave her crying on the other side of my door.
The rain that accompanies tonight’s storm should help things cool down though, finally.